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RENTAL HOUSING LOCK LAW

By: Dick Hargis

Hargis & Harpold, L.L.P.

January 2000

 

It has been almost 7 years since the Texas Legislature enacted the rental housing “lock law”-- the statute which governs landlord’s duties and tenant’s remedies regarding the installation, repair and replacement of security devices in residential leases.

Effective September 1, 1993, the statute has endured with little substantive change.  One exception concerns a change made by the last Legislature to the definition of “tenant turnover.”  Questions and concerns had existed over the statute’s failure to require rekeying of locks if the owner was the vacating occupant when placing the property in rental status.  Accordingly, the definition of “tenant turnover” was modified to require the rekeying of locks each time any occupant moves out and a new tenant moves in.  This change became effective September 1, 1999. 

As the new year and century unfolds, it may be helpful to brokers and their landlord and tenant clients to review the essential features and requirements of the Texas “lock law.”  To begin, the lock law replaced all common law, statutory law and city ordinances; thus, for the first time, the landlord’s duties and the tenant’s remedies became uniform across the state.  The statute applies to mobile homes, single family dwellings, duplexes, triplexes, apartment units, condominiums and townhomes.  The landlord includes the owner, lessor, sublessor, management company, managing agent or on-site manager. 

A few requirements of the previous law were retained:

 §       installation of window latches on all windows; and

 §       installation of either a doorhandle lock or a key operated deadbolt on all entry

         doors.

As under the prior law, tenants, at their expense, still have the right to require the owner to rekey at any time, install keyless deadbolts, and install sliding door pin locks.

New Tenant = Rekey Locks

The statute sets forth many time deadlines for the owner. For example, a landlord must rekey the lock within a “reasonable time” upon the occurrence of the following events:

 §         tenant turnover;

 §         tenant’s request at tenant’s expense; or

 §         tenant’s request regarding an inoperative device.

A “reasonable time” is presumed to be not later than the seventh (7th) day after the request is received by the landlord.  However, a “reasonable time” is presumed to be 72 hours after the tenant’s request if the tenant informs the landlord of one of the following:

    §        unauthorized entry occurred or was attempted in the dwelling;

    §       unauthorized entry occurred or was attempted in another unit in the tenant’s multi-          unit complex during the two months preceding the date of the request; or

    §        a crime of personal violence which occurred in the tenant’s multi-unit complex

          during the two months preceding the date of the request.

The statute also provides for the landlord to deactivate the doorknob lock if there is a key-operated deadbolt. The reasoning behind this provision is to encourage tenants to use the deadbolt which is safer than the doorknob lock.

Deadlines for Security Devices

Although the law became effective as of September, 1, 1993, the deadline for all dwellings completed before September 1, 1993 to have additional security devices was January 1, 1995.  However, all newly constructed dwellings completed after September 1, 1993 must have all of the additional security devices at the time of move-in.

These required additional security devices for exterior doors are as follows:

 §         Keyless deadbolting lock and door viewer (peephole); pin lock on each sliding

          glass door;

 §         sliding door handle latch or sliding door security bar on each sliding glass door.

The keyless deadbolt lock must be installed not lower then 36 inches from the floor and not higher 54 inches from the floor, if installed before 9/1/93, or 48 inches from the floor, if installed after 9/1/93.

The height requirement for the sliding glass door pin lock security devices is no higher than 54 inches from the floor, if installed before 9/1/93, or 48 inches if installed after 9/1/93.  There are special requirements for French doors.

The above-described keyless bolting devices are not required in a dwelling where the majority of the tenants are over 55 years of age or who have disabilities and the management has a right to periodically check on the health or well-being of the tenant as part of a written agreement.

Tenant Remedies if Landlord Fails to Respond

The statute grants the tenant several remedies if the landlord fails to timely respond to the tenant’s request to install, rekey or repair a security device:

 §       install or rekey by the tenant who can deduct the cost thereof from the next

         month’s rent payment;

 §       unilaterally terminate the lease if the landlord failed to comply with the tenant’s

         request, and thereafter tenant gives the landlord a second notice in writing and the

         landlord still does not comply (the lease may require seven days written notice);

 §       file a lawsuit against the landlord requesting an order to compel the landlord to

         comply and receive actual damages and attorneys’ fees, if the landlord failed to

         satisfy the tenant’s request; or

 §       file a lawsuit against the landlord for one month’s rent, $500, attorney’s fees and an

         order requiring the landlord to bring all dwellings owned in Texas into compliance, if

         the landlord failed to comply with the tenant’s request, and thereafter tenant gives

         the landlord a second notice in writing and the landlord still does not comply (the

         lease may require seven days written notice).

 

Finally, the lock law permits the landlord to alter the requirements of the statute in a written lease. The alterations must be underlined or in a boldface print.

The lock law has helped to provide improved security for tenants in Texas and, hopefully, reduce the number of crimes against tenants.  With a decrease in crime, there should be fewer crime-related lawsuits filed against owners and their agents.

Dick Hargis is a partner with Hargis & Harpold, L.L.P. and has served as HAR legal counsel since 1988.

Copyright © 2010 Hargis & Harpold, L.L.P.

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